Why making fun of your own race is still racist

February 10, 2020 — by Selena Liu

“It’s not racist if it’s your own race.”

People generally say this after they’ve taken a jab against their own ethnicity by upholding a common stereotype. They see it as a harmless joke and perhaps even justify it as a way of gaining power over ideas they know they can’t control. 

From Asians who call themselves bad drivers to Indians who jokingly claim that all Indians smell bad, people who engage this internalized racism are subtly encouraging the idea of Caucasian superiority. By labeling minorities’ features or habits as unusual, they reinforce generalized stereotypes about their own race that may not even be true. 

If all Asians are bad drivers, who are the good drivers? Who smells good if all Indians smell bad? Stereotypes emphasize comparison, and in the U.S., comparison among races has proven to be nothing but harmful.

Psychologist Robin Nicole Johnson summarizes why the acceptance of negative stereotypes contributes to an idea of Caucasian superiority in “The Psychology of Racism,” writing that the internal reinforcement of negative stereotypes causes “conscious and unconscious acceptance of a racial hierarchy in which whites are consistently ranked above people of color.” 

This means that people who degrade their own race through negative stereotypes are, perhaps unknowingly, labeling themselves as imperfect minorities and even comparing themselves to a “perfect” Caucasian ideal. 

We see examples of this comparison in multiple instances. One example is when Asians claim that “Asians have small eyes.” This stereotype is not only generalized in a negative light, but it also holds a hidden comparison to Caucasians and the fact that they tend to have larger eyes. It reinforces the western standard of beauty that larger facial features are supposedly the “ideal.” 

Another, perhaps subconscious, way that people reinforce appearance “standards” is by  telling African Americans to stop wearing dreads. According to NBC, just this January, an African American high school student in Texas was suspended and told not to attend class after he refused to cut his dreadlocks. 

The fact that the school administrator thought that dreadlocks and hair longer than the shoulders was unacceptable also reinforces the idea of “normal” male hair: a style worn mostly by Caucasians. This comparative mindset is highly toxic in both of these contexts and only serves to strengthen the Caucasian hierarchy.

If victims of stereotyping support those very stereotypes, they will inevitably contribute to false ideas and a societal culture of overgeneralized classification. Even if they denounce external racism, people who reinforce stereotypes about their own race are still validating arguments against their own race. 

If we continue this habit of masking internalized racism as a mere joke, minorities will repeatedly be attempting to fit into a Caucasian mold and never fully embrace their unique individualities. At its best, America is not a melting pot that seeks to wash away differences and make everyone the same, but instead a country in which people from many backgrounds thrive because they are different and bring something worth valuing to the greater whole. 

This diversity can only benefit citizens if each individual appreciates their unique background and does not actively reinforce negative stereotypes about his or her own race.



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